A few years ago, I came to the realization that just about all of my close friends and everyone that I really “clicked” with in the professional world had played some form of team sports when they were a kid. They all weren’t necessarily stand-outs, but they had at least played on a team at one time or another.
It’s not like I ask people what sport they played before deciding if I can be friends with them or not; I’ve just identified an interesting tendency that’s pretty reliable.
Thanks to My Parents
I’ve also become much more appreciative that my parents pushed me to play sports when I was kid. I remember a few times that I resisted; but today, I can’t think of another activity that did so much to prepare me for life.
There’s just something about people who played team sports when they were young… To put it simply, they just “get” it. They’re competitive, yet able to work with other people. They know how to work hard, and they know how to play hard.
Psychologically, they’ve developed the ability from a young age to put aside their personal comfort for the good of the group. This is such a hard quality to find in people in today’s self-centered society. Most people want everything handed to them, but I’d rather work with someone who understands that they have to earn their status.
A Hollywood Example
Here’s a decent example: in Hollywood, everyone starts out as a PA. PA stands for “Production Assistant,” which is a generic term for an entry-level gopher job. The entertainment is a largely closed-off community and the only way in is through the bottom.
PAs get worked. They’re usually forced to put in 12-16 hour days for just about no money. Their existence is often reduced to degrading work such as fetching coffee or picking up dry-cleaning for the producers. It’s tough work, but PAs get exposure to the inner-workings of entertainment production and tend to be the first in line for higher-level jobs in the future.
How to Get Past PA
To make it past PA and get hired for a better job, you have to: 1. have the ability to suspend your ego and 2. have a ferocious work ethic; two qualities that are in short supply in today’s world.
Many people can’t lower themselves to get coffee for someone else. They feel entitled to a certain level of status. They are concerned with upholding their reputation.
Work ethic is a whole other story. The human body is capable of working many times harder than the brain realizes. Most people stop at the first sign of pain, but they could go much further if they had developed any toughness.
Pushing the Limits
Pushing the body past previous limits causes growth. Muscles of the body and mind rebuild stronger, with higher limits. Legally, your boss can’t force you to work until you’re in pain; but those that do are definitely going to stand out.
Playing team sports lays the foundation for humility and work ethic. These two qualities are tough to acquire at an older age. You can’t just put someone in a seminar and expect them to come out a productive team-player. It’s woven into the fabric of your being.
The Best Way I Know
The best way I know to instill this ethic is to play team sports. That’s not to say that it can’t be learned any other way. I’m sure growing up on a farm or being forced to run the family drugstore at 12 years old might do the trick. I just haven’t run across anyone who “gets it” without having played team sports as a kid.
Am I wrong?
I heard Jim Cramer say once on his TV show that when he worked at Goldman Sachs, he only hired people that had played team sports. Apparently, he felt so strongly about the connection between playing team sports and work ethic that he wouldn’t even take a chance on someone who didn’t.
I can see why he had that policy. Just because someone didn’t play team sports doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right work ethic; it just means the chances are a lot less. A numbers guy is going to go with the odds that work in his favor.